Just when you think TV can't Peak any more, along comes another winning season. The Golden Globes are always open to freshman shows and stars, so which small screen newbies are on their radar this year? Here's a rundown of four possibilities, along with an array of critics' opinions. Three are breaking down old barriers and one is mining old touchstones, all to create fresh fare.
"Stranger Things" -- Netflix
This summer's binge favorite recollects the best '80s scary-fun popcorn flicks. The Duffer brothers (Matt and Ross) have conjured up a town full of dangers -- from this world and another -- that only kids, an unhinged mom and a dissipated cop can recognize.
The reviews: The A.V. Club's Joshua Alston praises the show as "perfectly calibrated. It feels like watching a show produced during the era in which it's set, but with the craft of today's prestige television." But the Washington Post's Hank Stuever bemoans "some plot holes and deliberate obfuscation that make 'Stranger Things' a clumsier ride than it needs to be."
The scoop: David Harbour has been praised for his portrayal of Jim Hopper, an often drunk, pill-popping, yet heroic sheriff with a tragic back story. "He was one of the throwback leading men that I grew up watching as a child, and that were instrumental in what I considered masculinity and manhood to be," Harbour says of the role's appeal, adding the pilot script was the best he's ever read. As for Season 2, "I'm not going to tell you a damn thing," he insists, before adding, "The first five minutes when I was reading it, I just screamed 'Yes!' Right from the get-go, it's another roller coaster."
"Pitch" -- Fox
"Pitch" is a show about the first woman to go to the Show. Young baseball phenom Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury) joins the San Diego Padres as a starting pitcher, and the crowd goes wild. Her team alternately supports and denigrates her, but with catcher Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) in her corner, she comes out swinging.
The reviews: Vox's Todd VanDerWerff calls the show "impressive. It's formulaic as can be, yet still incredibly compelling." The Boston Globe's Matthew Gilbert is less moved. "The writers telegraph every single point, especially the sentimental ones, because subtlety can be so darn challenging," he complains. But both critics, along with their colleagues, agree that Bunbury is a breakout star with charisma to burn.
The scoop: Bunbury's father was a professional soccer player, so she knows that world inside out. "I understand pro athletes' mentally, I understand them physically -- I also played sports myself -- and I understand being a dreamer," she says. And the role offers a lot more than the sports angle. "I'm getting to show people all sides of me. Ginny is brave, she's interesting, she's wise, she's weird, and that's really important to see on TV. Ginny's doing her life her way. She's not afraid to be anything but herself."
"Queen Sugar" -- OWN
Based on Natalie Baszile's 2014 novel of the same name, and executive produced by film director Ava DuVernay, "Queen Sugar" is a sweet, sticky family drama set in Louisiana and starring an African American cast. Three siblings work with and against one another to manage the farm that their father has bequeathed to them, while also struggling with their own heartaches. The show takes its time, creating scenes of lush cinematic beauty.
The reviews: "This is life, in all its colors," USA Today's Robert Bianco exults about the show's quietly revolutionary presentation of a black family. "It's about time we were able to see [this] more." Newsday's Verne Gay is frustrated by the slow pace though: "A bayou tempo is baked into these episodes, which is fine for the bayou, less so for commercial TV."
The scoop: Rutina Wesley plays oldest sister Nova Bordelon, a reporter, social activist and herbalist with a complicated romantic life. "She's a very unique character that I've never played, nor have I seen," says Wesley. "She's a beautiful mess, and I myself concede to being a beautiful mess." Wesley finds herself drawing strength from Nova's choices and opinions. "Nova is five things that I am for sure and 15 things I was afraid to be -- too opinionated, or too political, not being afraid if someone judges them. Every day I'm inspired by her."
"Speechless" -- ABC
A sitcom about a family whose oldest son has cerebral palsy could fall into any number of maudlin traps. But "Speechless" makes hay of Very Special self-importance, thanks to creator Scott Silveri. Starring Minnie Driver as Maya DiMeo, the biggest disability-rights advocate mother a teenage son would ever roll his eyes at, and Micah Fowler (an actor with cerebral palsy) as the son, JJ, who manages to say a mouthful without talking, the show is indeed important but more important, it's hilarious.
The reviews: Ben Travers of Indiewire notes that "the comedy-first approach to yet another family sitcom makes "Speechless" stand out more than any inclusive message ever could," adding that "its world exists as ours should: unembellished. And in that, its powerful message could become extraordinary." But Ken Tucker of Yahoo TV cautions that it tries so hard to avoid sentimentality, "it goes way overboard in the other direction."
The scoop: Driver plays Maya with gusto. "Humanizing the difficult things about a person is what separates you out as an actor," she says of the role. "It's such skillful writing in the first place, you can't mess around. You have to be very bold in your choices." She adds that the conversation around the show is crucial. "Ironically, as it's named, it is giving a voice to a host of people." Fowler hopes that people see the DiMeos "as any other typical family."